Published: Fri, March 10, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

19 dead and dozens injured in fire at orphanage

19 dead and dozens injured in fire at orphanage

In the past, the shelter near Guatemala City had been criticised for overcrowding, alleged abuse and escapes.

"This is a painful situation", he said, adding that the fire was started by a group of young people at the center.

Local media said 540 children lived at the shelter - which takes in under-18s who are victims of abuse and trafficking, or have been abandoned - despite its capacity to hold 400.

The blaze was believed to have started during an overnight rebellion in the packed centre, which holds almost double the 400 people it was created to house.

Pictures of the scene show burnt bodies partially covered in blankets strewn across the floor of a blackened room in the home.

The fire broke out in the adolescent female wing of the state-run Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home.

Nery Ramos said about 40 residents escaped but were recaptured and isolated. Even outside of shelters, growing up can be tough in the Latin American country with the highest rates of child malnutrition, where street gangs often prey on children and teenagers in poorer neighborhoods.

The prosecutor for children's rights, Abner Paredes, told local media initial reports suggested the fire started when some started setting fire to mattresses in the shelter.

Sent by court order, the residents are under the responsibility of the social welfare ministry.

50-year-old Alicia Lopez waited outside the centre for hours to find out what had happened to her autistic 12-year-old son. She said the teen was pregnant and had been at the shelter for nine days because she ran away from home.

"I still don't have information ... But I have faith in God that there will be justice", Dacia Marcela Ramirez Soza told CNN.

Mr De Leon said younger children fled the shelter because they were being abused by the elder children.

According to Leonel Dubón of the Children's Refuge charity, there had already been calls by the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (PDH) for the orphanage to be closed.

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